When I realised I could not get in and out of our car any more, I didn’t realise it would be nearly two years before we finally got a WAV delivered!
It was in February 2021 when I happened to need to go to our GP surgery for a blood test that I realised, in the parking bay outside, that I could not get out of the car. It had become increasingly difficult with our previous model of Ford Focus but I could still manage, however we had had to replace it. With the Motability scheme you have your car for a maximum of five years and unfortunately, the new model was harder to negotiate, partly because the height of the passenger seat cannot be adjusted as there is a battery below it. We looked at some other types of car, but none of them appeared to be any easier.
Fortunately, after checking their insurance details, the GP practice was happy for me to have blood taken while I was seated in the car. Back home, I of course still had to get out of the car but, as part of the problem was the effect of stress, (mild, I know!) on my muscles plus the added factor of knowing I had to exit the car or live in it for ever more, I managed to stand up, swivel and sit in my power chair.
This meant we needed to look into getting a Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV). We contacted Motability and they were happy for us to change vehicle, even though we hadn’t had the new one for very long but as my needs were now different, it was no use to us.
This led to us having The WAV Experience! This is administered by Proximo on behalf of Motability. They lend you a WAV for a week so that you can see if it is the right option for you. The car we were lent was a Citroën Berlingo, where the wheelchair-user sits in their chair in the back.
Before this, we had to buy a Powerchair that is “crash-tested,” in other words, one that can be fixed to the floor of the WAV. We decided on a Roma Reno Elite which had to come with the Captain Seat (a slightly higher seat back) in order to comply with the regulations. It is very similar to the chair I use the rest of the time but it is a bit ‘clunkier,’ not quite so nippy, but as I will mainly use it for parks or gardens this isn’t a big problem. It is no wider so it goes through our doors without a problem.
Travelling in the back of a WAV is rather strange in two ways: physically, because it doesn’t feel as stable as sitting in a car seat. Even though I knew wasn’t going to be tipped over, it was unsettling nevertheless until I got used to it. The other issue is that it does not feel great to me to sit in the back like a taxi passenger or a parcel! Plus, the visibility is really poor from there. It was good to get out and about having not done so since February but the weather was still too cold for an outdoor visit.
It was a useful experience, though, as it decided us that what we really wanted was an Upfront i.e. a car adapted so that the wheelchair-using passenger can sit next to the driver in the place where the passenger seat would be.
We did consider looking into vehicles where you enter the car from the side but decided that in our driveway, it would be much easier to enter from the rear of the vehicle. Also, not all Blue Badge parking bays are that wide and would probably have caused problems with accessing the side ramp when we were out and about.
In July we test drove a Volkswagen Caddy Upfront from Sirus, who are specialists in Upfront WAVs. I felt much more secure being seated upfront (although this might be because I was more used to travelling in my chair in a car anyway) and the visibility was much better. It was a second-hand car and we could have bought it but this would have meant leaving the Motability scheme. We decided we would prefer to stay with the scheme and get a new car. Unfortunately, the Caddy was temporarily unavailable because they were relaunching it as the VW Caddy 5.
We waited several months for the new model to appear but then they announced that they had raised the upfront price that you pay to Motability by several thousand pounds. This needed a rethink!
In February 2022, we test drove a Peugeot Traveller Upfront. We decided that this was what we wanted so we ordered it from GM Coachwork, a company that does adaptations to make cars accessible. It is larger than the VW Caddy but cheaper. What we actually got was a Citroën Spacetourer which is what was available from Motability at the time and as far as I can tell, it is exactly the same thing as the Peugeot Traveller.
We were told that there might be a bit of a wait for delivery as the whole car industry was having problems with sourcing parts such as microchips but that it should be ready by July or August. In August we were told the car had arrived in the country and was being adapted. In September they said they were waiting for parts then we finally had it delivered on 1 November.
The chap from GM Coachwork was very helpful in showing Pete how to secure my chair to the floor of the vehicle fold and lock the ramp and other technicalities and went with us for a brief test drive.
Since then we have had a drive around York while the trees still had some of their autumn colours. It was great to see places we hadn’t seen for a long time but nothing much had actually changed! We were also able to get to the garden centre so that I could spend some garden vouchers which would have expired at the end of the year!
It is now far too cold for outside visits unless you can walk briskly but it is good to have the car to use if we need to and I am really looking forward to getting out and about when the weather is warmer.